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Whats It Like at Forty Below?

Updated on January 7, 2014

Forty Below It's Part of My Life

Say the words forty below or minus forty and chances are you involuntarily shudder. I live and work in these temperatures and even I shudder.

This very cold place is my home and I wouldn't change that for the world. I'm not saying I love -40. My fuel bill is over $3000 a year. I can't get out and exercise when it's that cold.

But still I'm used to it and prepared for it. Quite frankly, I'd take extreme cold over extreme heat any day.

If you're not used to extreme cold it's important to remember it is deadly.

Ahead, I'll give you a glimpse of what it's like in such extreme cold conditions, some tips on how to stay warm and even some interesting facts about -40.

(Photo by me Nunavut 2013)

The Basics of Minus 40

1. Minus 40 is Minus 40 in Celsius or Farenheit. It's the cold temperature when both scales match.

2. There is rarely any snow when it reaches -40. To have snow you need clouds. The clouds act as an insulator so most -40 days and nights are crystal clear.

3. Because of the clear skies, viewing the northern lights is best in extreme cold temperatures.

4. The snow has a distinctive crunchy sound when you walk on it, because all the moisture is frozen stiff.

5. Extreme cold can cause ice fog, which may be so dense and thick you can only see a short distance in front of you.

Dressing for the Cold

As I reporter, I often have to work outside. They coldest temperatures I've ever worked in were in the -50s a few years ago when I was covering the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race.

I've also worked in Nunavut, and the Northwest Territories. I've even worked on a glacier on Mt Logan. (Canada's highest Mountain)

I promise I know a lot about dressing for cold weather.

Let's start with the basics.

1. Gloves

Gloves are warmer than mittens. When it's -40 you can't touch anything metal with your bare hands. Not your car door handle. Not the door knob going into your house. Nothing.

A few years ago, I left the keys in my ignition. I took off my gloves to start my truck. It took a few tries. When I got back into the house my thumb and index finger (the areas that were touching the key) were white and painful. I was lucky. Prolonged exposure could have caused permanent damage.

2. Layering

Unless you live in a tropical climate you should have a good pair of long underwear and an insulated long sleeve t-shirt. You may have to duck into the bathroom at work or school to take them off so you don't sweat all day, but layering is a key component in keeping warm.

3. The Right Socks.

You want socks that wick away moisture. In very warm boots your feet may sweat. It's really important to keep them dry.

4. Hats and Scarves.

Keep your head and face covered. Frostbite on the tip of your nose and ears is very painful. Also, you lose a lot of body heat through your head, so invest in a good hat or toque.

Canada Goose My Favorite Parka

Quite simply, I swear by Canada Goose parkas. Their extreme cold weather models are field tested by scientists in Antarctica.

My favorites are the Expedition and Snow Mantra models. Wear one of these and you will NOT be cold. Guaranteed.

They are not inexpensive, but they are a great investment.

My first Canada Goose Parka is ten years old and in good shape. I bought a newer model last year for something different.

If you don't need something for such extreme temperatures, Canada Goose makes a full line of outwear for "warmer" temperatures, starting with just below freezing.

Canada Goose Men's Expedition Parka Coat
Canada Goose Men's Expedition Parka Coat

One of the best selling parkas by Canada Goose. Practical but stylish, it comes in a wide range of colors and is available in mens and womens styles.

Canada Goose Women's Kensington Parka
Canada Goose Women's Kensington Parka

Who says warmth can't be stylish? This is one of the Canada Goose longer models. It's perfect for urban wear.

Canada Goose Expedition Polar Bear International Parka
Canada Goose Expedition Polar Bear International Parka

This model is available in mens and womens sizes. It comes in the distinctive arctic ocean blue with a polar bear patch on the side. Canada Goose give $25 of each purchase to Polar Bears International.


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Let's Move On to the Best Cold Weather Boots

I have two pair of boots for extreme cold temperatures. My Sorels are a little chunky, but they are rated to -100C (-148F)

I also have a little dressier pair of Baffin Boots.

I like both of these companies. They have a great track record and make dependable products for men, women and children.

When you are choosing cold weather boots, make sure they are completely waterproof. Wet feet in extreme cold isn't just uncomfortable, it's dangerous.

Look for boots with pull out felt liners. They add an extra layer of insulation. They're easy and inexpensive to replace and add years to the life of your boot.

Sorel Women's Joan Of Arctic NL1540 Boot,Shale,8 M US
Sorel Women's Joan Of Arctic NL1540 Boot,Shale,8 M US

These boots keep your feet toasty warm and look great with skinny jeans.

Sorel Women's Glacier NL1042 Boot,Black,9 M US
Sorel Women's Glacier NL1042 Boot,Black,9 M US

See these monsters? They're what I wear. They're not pretty, but they certainly do the job.

Baffin Men's Endurance Snow Boot,Black,12 M US
Baffin Men's Endurance Snow Boot,Black,12 M US

Super warm boots with replaceable foam liners. They even have a pocket on the side.

Baffin Women's Katie Snow Boot,Chocolate,9 M US
Baffin Women's Katie Snow Boot,Chocolate,9 M US

My Baffins. They are really warm and comfortable.


My Very Cold Truck

It Has to Go, Even at Forty Below

If you think -40 is hard an your body, imagine what it does to your vehicle.

Do you see that yellow extension cord on the front of the truck? When it hits -30C I have to plug the truck in. The power goes to the block heater and the oil pan heater. The block heater warms the inner core of the engine. The oil pan heater keeps the oil from freezing. On this vehicle, the power also goes to a battery blanket which makes it easier for the truck to start.

My last vehicle also had an interior car heater. It's just enough to take away the extreme cold and keep the cab a little more comfortable. Even if you have expensive leather seats, at -40 it's like sitting on a solid block of ice.

Once the truck is running, the first few blocks are a rough ride because the tires are frozen. We refer to it as "square tires". At -40, people don't turn their vehicles off while they are shopping.

Years ago I spent part of a winter in southern Canada. A cold snap hit and mine was the only vehicle on the block that started. I asked my neighbors why they didn't plug in their cars. They looked at me like I was crazy.

I had lived in the north so long I thought all vehicles came with block heaters.

(photo by me Yukon 2013)

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